SA's current power cuts

Power cuts, or load shedding as they call it, is happening country wide
on a daily basis. We were without electricity on Saturday afternoon and
Monday evening, the latter being for 3 hours. This is having a major
impact on the economy as businesses (those that don't have back-up
generators) have to close down and obviously lose a lot of revenue.

Traffic lights also get affected and trying to cross intersections gets
extremely dangerous because of the lack of courtesy from other drivers,
particularly the taxis.

It is estimated that this is going to be an on-going problem for between
5 - 8 years until new sources of power can be introduced. Oh happy days.
The following happened yesterday:

By Louise Flanagan

Michael Bevan was undergoing a complicated operation on his carotid
artery when the power went off.

"At the most important point, the power went," said cardiologist Farrel
Hellig, who was carrying out the procedure on Thursday at Netcare
Sunninghill Hospital in Sandton.

"The consequences could have been a massive, severe stroke or death."

Hellig said the back-up power came on within 10 minutes, but for those
few crucial minutes he was unable to do anything for his patient.

"The timing of it was at the worst possible moment."

He was inserting a stent into the carotid artery - the artery that
supplies blood to the brain - in Bevan's neck because the artery was
dangerously narrowed.

"The critical point of the procedure is the positioning and release of
the stent, which is a metal mesh tube used to scaffold the blockage, to
keep it open," said Hellig.

"We couldn't complete the procedure and had to leave all the equipment
in the artery for 10 minutes."

Bevan, who is 69, wasn't under general anaesthetic.

"The patient is awake during this procedure, so the patient is aware of
all the stresses that the staff are under and is aware that there is a
problem," said Hellig.

Bevan said he was conscious of what was happening but wasn't nervous,
partly because the back-up power came on soon and partly because the
medical team didn't panic. He said the operation started at 7am and
lasted until the power cut at about 10am.

"Eskom has to tell you what's going on, and the hospital has to take
action before the power switches off," said Bevan.

Hellig said he had heard "at the last minute", after the operation had
started, that a power cut was imminent. The team were trying to finish
before the power went off, but rushing through such a procedure is not wise.

Dr Farrell Spiro, an interventional radiologist, said he also had a
procedure interrupted by the power cut.

"I had to stop the procedure because it was just too dangerous."

Spiro said he usually phoned Eskom each day to check on the planned
cuts. However, when he called initially on Thursday, nobody answered,
and then the phone was picked up and put down.

He said Eskom didn't always keep to its schedule, which made it
difficult for doctors to plan.

Sunninghill Hospital has back-up generators, but doctors said there was
a critical period between the power cutting and the generators kicking
in, which left patients in limbo.

In addition, the generators are not able to run all the equipment
because some machines require too much power for them.

There were two power cuts at Sunninghill on Thursday, and several dips
in the power.

In each dip, equipment switches off and staff are unable to monitor
patients undergoing procedures until computers and other machines turn
on again.

This has happened daily for the past week.

The hospital also houses a world-renowned cardiac unit for children,
which takes referrals of extremely ill youngsters from around the
country and from other African countries.

The doctors said the power cuts were putting ill children undergoing
procedures at risk.

*This article was originally published on page 1 of The Star
<http://www.thestar.co.za/> on January 18, 2008 *


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